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American military forces currently possess a significant advantage over peer competitors thanks to our global operational reach, the distance over which a joint force can successfully employ military capabilities. For Army formations, that distance depends largely on the ability to sustain mobile, dispersed combat formations in a contested, rapidly changing environment. Army sustainment provides the foundation of the Army’s operational reach. Combat formations that lack adequate sustainment risk early culmination and, ultimately, mission failure.

The risk of failure increases as we calculate sustainment demands in the near future, especially the demand for energy. Next-generation weapons systems will enhance Soldiers’ mobility, survivability, and lethality, but many, such as the recently upgraded M1A1 battle tank, are larger and heavier than systems currently in use. Other enhancements, such as the integrated visual augmentation system, require a phalanx of batteries borne by the Soldier and re-charged in the forward area. The Army’s sustainment enterprise is making limited progress on its ability to support developing systems, but future energy demands easily outpace capability. In short, the Army must reverse this trend before our combat formations run out of energy.

The Plan

Army leadership has not ignored this challenge. Various agencies—including the Board on Army Science and Technology, the Army Capabilities and Integration Command, and Army Futures Command (AFC)—have published findings and recommendations intended to limit demand growth. Training and Doctrine Command (TRADOC) and AFC are teaming with universities and other external agencies to develop solutions and are focused on five priorities.

Improve Effectiveness and Efficiency

As the Army develops the ability to fight and win multi-domain operations, program managers, researchers, and corporate partners must continue pursuing increased energy efficiency and alternative energy sources. For example, most command-and-control systems now use electrical power provided by generators that run on fuel. Delivering that fuel requires a distribution network of trucks, drivers, rail cars, storage facilities, movement control teams, contractors, commanders, and staff officers at multiple echelons.

To reduce this burden, the Sustainment Center of Excellence has teamed with AFC and the Mission Command Center of Excellence to modernize command posts. One solution is the advanced medium mobile power source (AMMPS). When operated as a microgrid, this network of generators combines fuel, batteries, and intelligent power electronics to provide electrical power at the point of need. The AMMPS microgrid may reduce fuel demand by 20-30% across the Army’s tactical generator fleet. The Army began fielding this capability in 2018.

Battery research offers another viable path towards demand reduction. AFC is partnering with multiple agencies to build a better battery. Initiatives include closing the gap between civilian batteries and the need for military batteries with more energy density, better performance in extreme weather, and faster discharge and charge rates. The Energy Storage Team, part of the Ground Vehicle Systems Center in Warren, Michigan, just developed a powerful lithium-ion battery that is significantly lighter and safer than the Army’s current inventory of lead-acid batteries.

Hybrid and electric vehicles offer an additional opportunity to improve efficiency and effectiveness. The Maneuver Center of Excellence currently is developing a prototype electric light reconnaissance vehicle (eLRV) that will be purpose-built as a hybrid or run entirely on battery power. Equipped with either an electric or hybrid engine, the eLRV would replace High Mobility Multipurpose Wheeled Vehicles (HMMWVs) in every scout platoon. If successful, the new vehicle will provide increased operational duration, silent mobility and silent watch capability, enabling scouts to go longer and farther with less risk of detection. Other Army organizations are also working on converting existing HMMWV fleets to run on battery power.

Despite these efforts, the Army still has much work to do. Current battery technology can power a scout vehicle or a brigade command post, but not major weapon systems, such as battle tanks and self-propelled howitzers. We also need batteries that weigh less and store more, to prevent individual Soldiers from carrying a rucksack full of batteries. In addition to battery power, the Army should continue to research fuel cells that create electricity from varied fuel sources, replacing thousands of internal combustion engines with a cleaner, far more efficient power source.

Improve Situational Awareness

We can’t reduce the Army’s demand if we can’t see what we are consuming. As the complexity of combat operations increases, commanders will need to visualize and project various energy sources’ status to anticipate challenges, set priorities, and make informed decisions. Over the past two decades, the Army has fielded enterprise business systems, such as Global Combat Support System–Army, to provide commanders with real-time information regarding the status of their sustainment efforts. Future commanders will also need to see and conserve the energy resources that extend their operational reach.

Fortunately, we are not starting from zero. Commercial energy companies have been developing these types of systems for decades. “Peak shaving,” for example, enables power companies to incorporate fast-responding generators or store energy anywhere on the grid until the need spikes (picture southern Virginia in July). In conjunction with other systems, grid storage technology can reduce a brigade combat team’s need for fuel, generators, and resupply convoys.

AFC is already developing requirements for secure tactical advanced mobile power, a series of components that create a smart power grid that provides real-time feedback on consumption and capacity. This information will help commanders make better and faster decisions and forecast more accurate consumption rates during planning.

Decision-making at the speed of 21st-century warfare will require systems that anticipate, measure, and report consumption. The Army, in coordination with its joint partners, must develop systems that collect, consolidate, and analyze energy production, storage and usage at every point within the supply chain, from factory (or power plant) to foxhole.

Employ Robotics and Autonomous Systems

Using artificial intelligence and machine learning to reduce commanders’ cognitive load can improve decision-making by providing real-time feedback on the status of weapons systems. AFC’s artificial intelligence task force is adapting commercial capabilities towards this goal, and the Army’s Combat Capabilities Development Command has been teaming with universities to explore ways to rapidly consolidate thousands of data points to provide commanders with timely and actionable intelligence. The Marine Corps, meanwhile, is researching artificial intelligence applications to set “rules of thumb” that commanders can use to predict the weather, enemy activity, supply consumption, and unit readiness if and when units lose connectivity.

Separately, the Army is developing automated solutions that reduce or eliminate Soldiers’ physical tasks. For example, the automated switching gear being developed by the Maneuver Support Center of Excellence will automatically shift the power supply between a network’s transmission lines without requiring a Soldier to monitor and make those decisions.

Meanwhile, AFC is developing applications that will convert new and existing equipment into optionally manned vehicles. These systems will reduce both Soldier workload and combat risk. The Leader-Follower system, championed by CASCOM, applies this technology to cargo trucks, enabling units to conduct more convoys with fewer drivers within a 24-hour cycle, reducing risk to Soldiers.

Most initiatives to adapt this technology remain in the developmental stages. The speed with which the Army develops, manufactures, and fields these capabilities depends largely on the level of investment that senior leaders are willing to allocate towards building smarter, faster, more energy-efficient combat formations.

Meet Demand at the Point of Need

The Army expends enormous resources to operate distribution networks that deliver fuel and other commodities to combat formations. If we can produce those commodities where they are needed, we can reduce the resources necessary to operate those networks. Again, the commercial sector leads the way in developing advanced manufacturing capabilities that produce munitions and repair parts on site. Both the Army and the Department of Defense are developing means to adapt these capabilities to military logistics.

3D printing technology, for example, may significantly reduce the need to ship repair parts around the world. The Army has long been able to fabricate simple, field-expedient repairs at the tactical level. AFC is pursuing technologies that will enable tactical units to produce more complex items, such as vehicle and communications components. Brigade support battalions and support maintenance companies are currently adding this capability as part of the metalworking and machining shop set, a system that produces polymer-based components in a field environment.

Meshed power networks will likewise offer commanders the flexibility to generate, store, and access electrical power anywhere within the area of operations. Based on a concept developed by the Army Research Laboratory at Aberdeen Proving Grounds, Maryland, these networks would integrate various sources of electrical power, collecting that energy within a grid and distributing it where needed. For now, meshed power networks only exist as concepts or prototypes, but the military applications could change how we sustain combat formations.

The benefits of meeting demand at the point of need come at a cost. Pushing this capability forward increases responsiveness and reduces the burden on the theater distribution network, but it also increases the need for electrical power in the forward area. Most of the potential solutions are in the early stages of development, and there is currently no blueprint for an integrated system.

Change the Culture

Changing the culture of consumption within the Army will be the most important ingredient in meeting the demand reduction challenge. Our current formations benefit from very few limits on energy resources. Units frequently run their engines from dawn to dusk, while every generator inside the assembly area operates 24/7, regardless of load. As the gap between demand and supply increases, this luxury will disappear, and commanders will have no choice but to husband energy supplies in the same way they protect their time or ammunition.

To change culture, we must change how we develop the next generation of leaders. Because energy translates directly into operational reach, professional military education systems must identify the risk of squandering energy before it’s needed and the value of monitoring available energy and anticipating the need for more. Just as today’s leaders carefully allocate their limited stockage of precision munitions, future commanders must forecast energy requirements and incorporate these within their scheme of maneuver.

In the field, leaders will need to train and evaluate their Soldiers’ awareness and ability to monitor and use energy, regardless of its source. In our schoolhouses, we will need to integrate energy employment into training, developing doctrine and tasks, conditions, and standards that illustrate the employment of energy as a weapons system. Finally, senior leaders must incorporate the value of demand reduction within their strategic messaging, ensuring that subordinate leaders echo that priority at every echelon.

The Way Ahead

Marie Curie stated the way of progress is “neither swift nor easy.” If the Army is to achieve the progress necessary to reduce and meet demand on future battlefields, several tasks require attention.

First, the sustainment enterprise must develop and communicate a clear message to Army senior leaders regarding the risk of demand creep. Toward that end, TRADOC and AFC are developing a comprehensive Sustainment Modernization Strategy to synthesize the perspective of the operational force and other key stakeholders.

Second, we need to improve situational awareness. We are working now to improve communication and collaboration with our partners, and we are developing new knowledge management techniques to monitor modernization efforts across the Army.

Third, demand reduction must be incorporated within our doctrine, training, and education programs, teaching and training Soldiers how to monitor, preserve, and apply energy successfully on the battlefield. As future areas of operation expand in distance and complexity, commanders will need to preserve energy just as they preserve other elements of combat power.

Finally, the Army should embrace a systemic approach to modernization, seeking to develop systems of systems based on common platforms, common power supplies, and common software. AFC’s “Project Convergence” rep-resents an important step towards this goal. Without commonality, we may field combat formations that depend on ad hoc sustainment solutions. Instead, we need to modernize our sustainment capability in step with the rest of our combat power, ensuring we maintain the operational reach and technological edge necessary to fight and win the next war.


Maj. Gen. Mark T. Simerly serves as the commanding general of the Combined Arms Support Command at Fort Lee, Virginia. He previously served as the commander of the 19th Expeditionary Support Command, He was commissioned as a lieutenant of Air Defense Artillery and awarded a Bachelor of Arts Degree as a Distinguished Military Graduate from the University of Richmond. He holds a Master of Science in National Resource Strategy from the National Defense University and a Master of Military Arts and Sciences Degree from the Army Command and General Staff College.


This article was published in the Oct-Dec 2021 issue of Army Sustainment.


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